The Psychology Of WoW Classes

I’ve been promising to write about this for a while, but I needed time to let the idea percolate in my head and even more time to write out this monster of a post (over 2,000 words). I’ve learned quite a bit reading the comments from my MBTI/RPG class post that caused me to revise my opinion quite a bit.

It was a mistake to try and correlate MBTI type and class preference with such specificity. While it was a fun exercise, it had no actual application to reality. Players are too diverse and tastes vary widely. It’s impossible to separate the reasons people play a particular class into purely aesthetic or mechanical considerations, not to mention the number of players for whom novelty and trying something different are the standards rather than the exceptions.

With that said, I’d like to take another look at MBTI and RPG correlation, but from a different perspective: that of the various kinds of classes in an MMO setting. The other major difference is I’m not going to try and pigeonhole one type or even one Keirsey temperament. Instead, I’m going to look at how the three primary roles of the different World of WarCraft classes and how each appeals to each temperament in different ways.

A Brief Overview of the Four Temperaments

SJ Guardians: ISFJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, ESTJ

Keirsey defines Guardians as having the following characteristics:

  • Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, and hard-working.
  • Guardians make loyal mates, responsible parents, and stabilizing leaders.
  • Guardians tend to be dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials and traditions.
  • Guardians are concerned citizens who trust authority, join groups, seek security, prize gratitude, and dream of meting out justice.

SP Artisans: ISFP, ESFP, ISTP, ESTP

Keirsey defines Artisans as having the following characteristics:

  • Artisans tend to be fun-loving, optimistic, realistic, and focused on the here and now.
  • Artisans pride themselves on being unconventional, bold, and spontaneous.
  • Artisans make playful mates, creative parents, and troubleshooting leaders.
  • Artisans are excitable, trust their impulses, want to make a splash, seek stimulation, prize freedom, and dream of mastering action skills.

NF Idealists: INFJ, ENFJ, INFP, ENFP

Keirsey defines Idealists as having the following characteristics:

  • Idealists are enthusiastic, they trust their intuition, yearn for romance, seek their true self, prize meaningful relationships, and dream of attaining wisdom.
  • Idealists pride themselves on being loving, kindhearted, and authentic.
  • Idealists tend to be giving, trusting, spiritual, and they are focused on personal journeys and human potentials.
  • Idealists make intense mates, nurturing parents, and inspirational leaders.

NT Rationals: INTJ, ENTJ, INTP, ENTP

Keirsey defines Rationals as having the following characteristics:

  • Rationals tend to be pragmatic, skeptical, self-contained, and focused on problem-solving and systems analysis.
  • Rationals pride themselves on being ingenious, independent, and strong willed.
  • Rationals make reasonable mates, individualizing parents, and strategic leaders.
  • Rationals are even-tempered, they trust logic, yearn for achievement, seek knowledge, prize technology, and dream of understanding how the world works.

Now that we’ve identified the main characteristics that are core to each temperament, let’s see how these translate into the different class roles in WoW.

Tanking

Classes: Blood Death Knight, Guardian Druid, Protection Paladin, Protection Warrior, Brewmaster Monk

It’s easy to see why the tanking role appeals to Guardians; it’s even in their temperament name! In WoW, the Tank is responsible for guiding his or her teammates safely through the dungeon. The Tank stands on the front line and takes the hits from the monsters that would drop a more fragile character. The well-being of the group depends on the Tank to perform his or her job well. Without a strong Tank, the group will fall apart. The Guardian thrives in a social environment where their natural dependability is a strong asset and the Tank role demands exactly that.

For an Artisan, I believe that tanking will appeal for a very different reason. Artisans will focus on the fact that tanking is one of the most exciting and dynamic roles. A Tank is right in the monster’s face and often has to react quickly to changing situations, lending itself to a high-adrenaline and exciting playing style. A good Tank needs to be quick on his or her feet and troubleshoot problems, which fits well with an Artisan’s preference for an intense, high-energy playing style.

Idealists are Tanks for reasons similar, at first glance, to those that motivate Guardians. Idealists are naturally cooperative and value the well-being of those they hold in their regard. The Guardian, however, will approach the Tanking role with the mindset of, well, a guardian. “The safety of the group is my responsibility.” An Idealist, on the other hand, will be more concerned with the well being of the group in an abstract sense. “If I do my job well, everybody is having more fun” is what guides an Idealist who has chosen to Tank.

Rationals, like their name suggests, are drawn to complexity and anything that stimulates their problem solving abilities. Although it might seem like the role of Tank requires nothing more than standing in front of a monster while it hits you over and over, in truth, Tanks often have the most complex job of any role. They must understand a particular encounter better than any other class and need to be able to know when to move, when to use special abilities, when to react, and many other intricacies. Although all roles are expected to know the details of an encounter in order to succeed, for tanks, understanding the encounter is essential. This natural complexity and the required understanding to succeed make tanking very appealing for the Rational.

Healing

Classes: Holy Priest, Holy Paladin, Restoration Shaman, Restoration Druid, Mistweaver Monk

Guardians who prefer a less intense, less in-your-face playing style (particularly those who are Introverts rather than Extroverts) may favor Healing instead of Tanking. Guardians prize gratitude and playing a Healer is often a rewarding experience for exactly that reason. Healers are always in demand and a good Healer will be valued and appreciated by the group. Healers provide stability and cohesion to a group, which are also valued traits to a Guardian. Again, the primary difference between the Guardian’s motivation and the Idealist’s is that for the Guardian, the task takes on the aspect of duty and responsibility. “I am the Healer. I’m responsible for keeping everybody alive.”

Although Healing is usually a more reactive than proactive role, there are moments of heart-stopping intensity that provide the thrill Artisans crave. Certain encounter will tax the Healer’s abilities or the Tank will take a beating and come within an inch of dropping and these scenarios provide adrenaline rushes as the Healer reacts quickly to resolve. There’s a visceral thrill in snapping off a large healing spell at just the right moment and Artisans can certainly appreciate that.

For Idealists, the Healing role is a natural fit (one of the Idealist types, INFP, is even called the Healer). The act of restoring and supporting one’s party fits well with the Idealist’s motivating desire for harmony. Healers watch over their parties much like Tanks do, but they don’t take the center stage or have all the focus directly on them, which is appealing to the Introverted side of the Idealist Temperament. More than any other role, however, Healers represent the ability to increase the enjoyment of other party members. Finally, from an aesthetic perspective, Healing fits well with the Idealist’s tendency towards kindness more so than hitting something in the face with a hammer (like the Tank) or setting it on fire (like the DPS).

The Rational again finds complexity in the Healer role that stimulates his or her intellect. Healers cannot be measured by raw statistics the way a DPS can, but there are other considerations a Healer must juggle that creature interesting scenarios for the Rational. Triage is an important skill of a healer; knowing when and how to use one’s best resources can often be the difference between success and failure. Healers must also be wary of overhealing, which represents a loss of strategic resources and so must employ their abilities carefully.

The DPS (Damage Per Second)

Class: Hunter, Mage, Rogue, Warlock, Arms Warrior, Fury Warrior, Retribution Paladin, Feral Druid, Balance Druid, Frost Death Knight, Unholy Death Knight, Elemental Shaman, Enhancement Shaman, Shadow Priest, Windwalker Monk

A dead monster is one that can’t hurt anyone. The Guardian might favor DPS as an extension of the maxim, “the best defense is a good offense.” Whether it’s dropping monsters with a fireball or stopping them dead with an arrow shot, the Guardian DPS player can maintain his or her party by unleashing the greatest firepower possible. Alternatively, the Guardian might play DPS because of all the roles, as evidenced by the list of potential classes, it’s the largest. The Guardian DPS might enjoy staying out of the spotlight that Tanks and Healers experience and instead be able to focus on doing his or her job dutifully and reliably. Good DPS is the backbone of the team and the Guardian, who enjoys being exactly that, can find his or her niche in this role.

Artisans approach the DPS role with a completely different attitude. For an Artisan, the DPS represents the chance to engage in intense, exciting, action packed gameplay. Instead of getting bashed on by a monster or watching health bars, the DPS Artisan is flinging huge fireballs or spinning blades at foes. DPS Artisans appreciate the big numbers; there’s nothing more thrilling than a huge critical strike or seeing one’s performance at the top of the DPS meter. Even though the group is working together, among DPS there is often competition to do the most damage. A DPS who tops the charts with his or her performance is going to feel like a rock star. It’s easy to imagine the Artisan’s attraction.

The Idealist’s reason for choosing DPS may be more nebulous than other temperaments. An Idealist DPS player might choose the role because of the different class archetypes spark the Idealist’s imagination and allows him or her to step into the fantasy of being a powerful wizard or knight. Alternatively, the Idealist might enjoy the DPS role for reasons shared by the Guardian and dropping foes efficiently helps the party have more fun. Finally, the Idealist might enjoy the DPS because it represents a change of pace from how the Idealist might normally be in a group context.

The Rational’s desire for mastery can be satisfied by the DPS role, especially in a class that requires a high level of skill to play effectively. DPS classes are dependent on using skills and resources effectively to produce more damage; this is often referred to as the “rotation” and mastery of it is critical to be successful. A Rational will enjoy figuring out the optimal rotation and mastering its execution. Alternatively, a Rational might enjoy the optimization aspect of a DPS role and balance different stats and equipment to create a superior character build.

This brings us to the end of the psychology of MMO classes. Some of my comments have been based on my own experiences, although most are derived more from observation of other players. There are likely many things that I missed for each class, but I hope that this broader approach to the subject of type and class will succeed where the previous attempt failed.

Finally, in writing this post, while my thesis is that any type can enjoy and do well at any role, I found that some types were much easier to place than others. It is my assertion that some types lend themselves better to some roles than others; call it a better fit, if you will, though it is not a pigeon-holing. Some players will always defy the norm and choose something explicitly because it’s strange or unique.

Here are my suggestions for the “best fit” for each role:

Tank: Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, Rational

DPS: Artisan and Rational

Healer: Guardian, Idealist

You’ll notice that this distribution is not necessarily balanced; all four temperaments are “best fit” with the Tank, for example. There’s also an inverse in the number of temperaments vs. the number of classes. Although DPS is the largest percentage of any group and has the largest number of classes dedicated to it, it has fewer temperaments than the more rare Tanking role.

I based this arrangement purely on my own opinion based on how easy or difficult it was to determine why a particular type might favor one role over another. It was easy for me to articulate why each temperament would have a best fit with the Tank role, but I had a difficult time determining the motivation for an Idealist to choose DPS.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this completely non-scientific look at this topic. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments and let me know where you believe I got it right . . . or wrong. Thanks for reading.

9 thoughts on “The Psychology Of WoW Classes”

  1. As a rational, I feel like there are a couple possible reasons you missed (particularly for the tank and healer). First off, like you said, rationals value their independence. Of all the roles, tanking is the least possible to share. If the healing is weak, you can add more healers. If the DPS is weak, you can add more DPS. If the tank is dying, adding more tanks isn’t really going to fix the problem. As a result, the role of the tank in any given fight isn’t really replicated, which appeals to the rational’s desire to dance to the beat of a different drummer.

    I would also point out that rationals are naturally strategic thinkers, and are very good at setting aside personal feelings when it serves a clear purpose. As a result, even if a rational really enjoys a certain role, they’ll have little problem stepping into a different role if it’s needed. For tank and healer, in particular, the simple argument that those roles are under-represented might be enough to push a rational into taking it over.

    1. Those are good points, especially about setting aside personal feelings when doing so serves a clear purpose. I’m willing to be that players who are willing to reroll are disproportionately NT (or possibly SJ, if it appeals to a sense of duty to one’s group or guild) whereas for NFs such as myself, such behavior is far less likely.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, it was an enjoyable read. Like you said, this approach is much more successful than your first attempt. I really liked how you draw from the Keirsey temperament descriptions and use them to describe the appeal of each WoW role.
    Therationalpi: “…the simple argument that those roles are under-represented might be enough to push a rational into taking it over”
    Very good point! (Sounds familiar, too. 🙂 )

    1. Glad to hear that it was well received! Although I’ve read Keirsey’s book a couple of times, I always stress a bit when writing about any temperament other than mine (Idealist), since I don’t have that person experience to draw on. Glad I did a better job of it this time around.

      What I’m wondering now is whether or not therationalpi’s theory that Rationals are more likely to take over critical, under-represented roles might actually be the strongest motivation. Keirsey describes Rationals are being very achievement and mastery focused, but the Rationals I know tend to be more about objective focus on getting the job done. More data is required!

  3. in case my comment is too vague for some reasons, let me explain the details.

    i’m a big fan of action game such as devil may cry, metal gear, ninja gaiden, you name it. i love the boss fight. particularly, especially, i love, very very love the boss fight. i find it thrilling and it’s interesting to figure out the boss mechanics, and how to counter it. that’s what i feel when i chose tank role. as a tank, you need to know every detail of the mechanics. and you need to know every spells to counter them in your arsenals. it is essential as it gives you a picture of how to prevail against the boss. the thrill of executing the right move at the right time while facing against the boss, is what drives me most into choosing the role of a Tank.

    as for dps, im enjoying myself most when figuring out the best rotation for class im currently playing, all by my self. and also configuring the best reforging and gemming to give me the biggest number it could. when i test it on an encounter, it satifies me the most if every effort i’ve already done gave me the top position in damage meter. just like a rational, i love finding out the best rotation, reforging, and gemming for my character. and like an artisan, i love it when im sitting on the top of damage meter.

    but after doing several psychological test, i always get an Idealist as the result.

    can you explain me this?

    1. Well, there are two possibilities here, at least based on the scenario as presented. The first is that perhaps your test results, even if they are consistent, aren’t accurately capturing your true type. This is something that happened to me quite a lot; I knew enough about the test to effectively “game” it and answer in a way that would push me towards the results that I wanted (INTP, the Architect) rather than my actual type (INFP.) It was only in reading Keirsey’s book and really, really, REALLY being honest with myself that I made that perception. But let’s assume that’s not the case here. Your typing is accurate. What’s the reason for the result?

      The most likely explanation is that not all people approach gaming environments the same way. The Bartle Test of Gaming Psychology posits that there are four different character motivations that explain why people play games and what they like to achieve. The types are Achiever, Explorer, Socializer, and Killer. To some degree, these map to Keirsey’s Four Temperaments of Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, and Rational, but it’s not 100%. It might not even be guaranteed because of a more underlying reason of what gaming means to an individual.

      As I see it, there are two variations on how people approach games, specifically ones that call for a player to act out a certain character like in an RPG. The first type of player (and I include myself in this category) tries to recreate themselves as a fantasy character. They make the choices that are “real,” by imagining what one would really do if confronted in that situation. They play classes and characters that are either close to one’s actual self-perception (such as, “I’m a vegetarian, so I play druids, because a druid seems more likely to be a vegetarian than other classes). Or if the player doesn’t play an actual fantasy version of one’s self, the player aims for an idealized version”: “if I could be anything, I would most like to be an elf,” because that character represents some aspect that the player idealizes.

      So an Idealist like an INFP would be drawn to support roles, healing, things of that sort.

      But. Not all players do that; the fantasy context of games allows us to be ANYTHING. So instead of being constrained by one’s actual self-perception, the gamer can subvert it entirely. THe player that’s a bookish librarian and somewhat quiet in real life chooses to be the rampaging barbarian simply because the game allows a completely different self-expression.

      So that would be my best guess: what motivates you in a virtual context is the ability to try on different identities and personas. You like being something other than what is traditional or expected of your particular type. Rather than conform to NF expectations, you’re branching out, trying different things, utilizing the freedom of the game world to be something different from your real life self.

      Interestingly, this is something that Keirsey accounts for in his book by casting the NF Idealists as primarily identity seeking. By trying out many different versions of yourself in a fantasy context, you can more accurately decide your own “true self” as a result compared to someone who only ever plays within a narrow band of characters. Because it’s a fantasy context, you’re not being inauthentic to your core self, because it’s a game.

      That’s my best crack at it, anyway.

      1. Your explanation kinda enlighten me to the point I was thinking, “This is the answer I was looking for. This is the article I was looking for”. It really, really, really explained everything regarding gaming and psychology.

        “…Idealists as primarily identity seeking.” Wow, that just hit me right on the spot. Yes, when the first time I played WoW I always thinking, “if I live in wow, what class would i choose for life? what class suits my personality best?”

        The very first class I rolled was mage, because I like fire element the most. And then I found out that warlock also uses fire spells (although demonic in nature, but who cares? it’s fire!). That’s when I got confused; between these fire weaver which one reflects my personality the most.

        And then there’s Hunter, who always travel the world with animal in their company. I like animals as well, very much. When I was little I had a dream of opening a zoo, or do something to preserve the endangered species.

        Then there’s rogue, the sneaky bastard. I love stealth themed game. I learnt that love when I played Metal Gear Solid. I also played Tenchu PS1, PS2, PSP, and Assassin’s Creed.

        Being a fan of adventure game, I love when fighting a boss, because it tests my skill to the limit. You have to know what he’s about to do, how to avoid it, and when to strike back. I don’t feel that thrill when playing as dps. No matter how hard I hit them, the boss is always focusing on 1 person only; tank. Yes, the tank has all the thrill I look for in adventure game, so lately I tried playing as tank. Blood DK is kinda fit for me, I think, because the self heal; I love the idea to be able to sustain myself in the face of boss onslaught.

        There you have it. At first I would like to play a class that represents my personality the most. But as I know the game and all elements it has, all sensation it offers, I realized there’s so much I want to do, so much I want to be. Eventhough for the past 2 years my main was a mage (which is no more), but until now I still can’t figure out which one should be my main.

        Can you give me an advice regarding this?

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